It was three days after Lord Matthias became President of Gallifrey, and Narvin was finally approaching the lower strata of the mountain of post on his desk. He’d been working on his correspondence during his quieter hours. Compared to the hectic High Council sessions, paperwork was a blessed relief. A year ago, Narvin might have enjoyed the present atmosphere among the chapters. Even those High Council members who had been firm supporters of Romana’s reforms before the civil war now spoke much more cautiously. Everyone seemed eager to return to a pre-war and pre-Romana status quo, as if all that unpleasantness could simply be swept under the carpet and forgot. Valyes’s confirmation as Chancellor had been welcomed almost unanimously. Sadly, Narvin couldn’t share the enthusiasm of his peers. Valyes’s particular brand of conservatism had seemed outmoded even before the war, and now it was outright reactionary. At best, it could be called wishful thinking, and at worst it was just another form of dangerous radicalism.
The dislike between Narvin and Valyes was mutual, and perhaps not so much political as personal. Narvin resented the incessant little jabs directed at him for his association with Romana during the war and the subsequent presidential election. Just this morning when Narvin had run into Valyes on his way from the president’s office, Valyes had, in his usual circuitous way, inquired how Leela was these days.
“I wouldn’t know, I haven’t seen her since Romana was put under house arrest,” Narvin had answered, truthfully but nevertheless annoyed, and Valyes had said, “Of course, of course,” in a meaningful way, irritating Narvin even further.
Not much later, while working on his correspondence, Narvin had discovered the reason for Valyes’s smugness. It was a memo from Matthias regarding the annual visa review for foreign citizens on Gallifrey. Matthias’s brisk note simply said, “Look into this, Valyes keeps bugging me about it”. Narvin couldn’t tell what annoyed him more about it — that Valyes would be so petty to carry on the grudge he had formed against Leela during her time as tutor, or that Matthias would give in so easily.
One thing was true, however. The visa review was overdue, and it was CIA business. Narvin would take care of it, but not in the way they wanted him to. His first impulse had been to go to Matthias and tell him that it was well beyond a Chancellor’s power to tell the CIA how they ought to do their work, but then he had come up with a much more elegant solution.
He sent one of his agents to find Leela, and then continued with his work, ever so slightly cheered by the prospect of the look on Valyes’s face when he found out about this. A moment later, Narvin briefly paused, doubting his decision. Was it really a good idea? It wasn’t revenge — that would have been unprofessional. He considered it, quickly coming up with a whole list of very good reasons to do what he was about to do. Satisfied, he picked another letter from the shrinking stack and opened it. If anyone would challenge his decision, or indeed ask him to justify it, he’d be well-prepared with a whole chain of rational arguments.
Not much later, the door opened without a courtesy signal to announce a visitor. Leela strode into his office with a confidence that belied her blindness. She looked better rested than Narvin felt, but otherwise much less content. Before Narvin could say more than a welcoming, “Ah, Leela-”, she’d interrupted him.
“Why did you order me to come here?”
Narvin hadn’t intended to cut to the chase so suddenly. “I hardly ordered you to come here. All I did was request your presence.”
“You sent one of your spies to search for me and bring me here. He was a very rude man. You are lucky I did not send him back to you with my answer carved in his weakling chest.”
Narvin winced. “I’d be extremely grateful if you didn’t mutilate the few trustworthy agents I have left.”
“Trustworthy?” Leela scoffed. “I thought your kind was never trustworthy, Narvin.”
He wondered if she meant CIA agents or Time Lords, but decided not to ask. “Well, actually, that brings me to the point—”
“Oh? You have called me here to tell me that I cannot trust you?” Leela’s tone was innocent, but her expression was amused. She was mocking him, which Narvin took as a good sign under the circumstances.
“Please, Leela, for once let me finish. These transitional periods are a very busy and taxing time for someone of my responsibilities, so I hope we can get this over with as quickly as possible. As you may remember, we’re overdue for the annual visa review.”
Leela faltered a tiny bit, thrown by this unexpected turn. “I do not remember this - oh. You are talking about the thing you give to aliens to tell them that they are not welcome here and must leave when their time runs out. I have never had one of those.”
“Actually, you have,” Narvin corrected, “although I can see how you might have failed to notice. I assume that Andred or K-9 managed the initial paperwork, and since then, it has been automatically renewed because you were married to a Gallifreyan citizen.”
Leela frowned. Narvin could tell that all of this was completely new to her, which was probably a good thing, since the mere thought of Leela trying to confront Gallifreyan bureaucracy was a nightmare.
“You are saying,” she said, her frown deepening, “that now that Andred is dead, I do not have this ‘visa’? That you will make me leave, like the alien students at the academy?”
“There is, indeed, the possibility that your visa might not be renewed, seeing as you are no longer married to a Time Lord, and your official status as presidential bodyguard is about to be revoked — ”
To Narvin’s surprise, Leela laughed in his face. It was a harsh laugh, short and bitter, but still defiant.
“And you thought I would beg you Time Lords to let me stay? I thought you knew me better than that, Narvin. I will not beg because I do not wish to stay here. There is nothing on this planet for me. It has taken my youth and my husband and my sight, and I have nothing left to give it. I shall leave gladly.”
For a moment, Narvin was dumbfounded. He hadn’t expected this. “You can’t leave,” he said, rather failing to make himself understood in his hurry to stop her.
Leela looked puzzled. “I cannot? But just now, you said—”
“It’s completely out of the question. You’re not just any alien. You were the presidential bodyguard! Do you even realize to what extent your knowledge could compromise our security?”
“I would not betray you like that!”
“I never said you would,” Narvin assured her. “But do you think the Daleks or the Sontarans would ask nicely? No, letting you go is out of the question.”
“Then what is it you want? You do not want me here because I am an alien, and you do not want me to go because I know too many of your secrets. What is it you want me to do? Or will you lock me up like Romana?” Leela’s hand hovered over her knife. “You may try, Narvin, if you value your life so little.”
“Actually, no.” Narvin leaned back, satisfied that they had finally come to the point. “I have a proposition for you.”
Leela’s stance turned even warier. “I do not like your tone.”
“I’m sure it’ll be amenable to both of us. You see, I’m in a rather difficult position at the moment. I’ve lost a good number of my agents during the civil war, and unfortunately, quite a few of the remaining ones favoured Pandora and Darkel, so now there’s a lot of dissension in the ranks. Not just that. Competition has always been tough among the CIA, and I believe that several of the lower level co-ordinators thought that this would be their chance to become chief co-ordinator. And they probably still do, since my position is anything but firm with Matthias. I think he,” Narvin coughed to cover his embarrassment, “believes me to be Romana’s man.”
Leela stared, her expression giving away nothing but a stubborn disapproval of anything he said. It was rather awkward, so Narvin continued. “I am, of course, completely loyal to the president, and I will, in time, sort out my problem with the agency, but until then, I’m leading a rather dangerous life. I need someone I can trust, someone competent, to watch my back. In short, I need a bodyguard.”
Finally, Leela seemed to understand. But she showed no sign of relief. Instead, her expression hardened and her tone turned bitter. “And if I say yes, you will allow me to stay on Gallifrey.”
“Exactly.” Narvin couldn’t see what was wrong with that solution. Leela had done excellent work as a bodyguard before, and she hadn’t objected to working with him for a while now.
“No,” Leela said.
Narvin blinked. His tongue felt leaden in his mouth, and his thoughts strangely sluggish. He tried to come up with a response, but all he managed was an uncomprehending, “No?”
The feeling in his throat was becoming more than uncomfortable. It was making it hard to breathe. Narvin looked down at his hands. His finger tips were stained black, as if he had dipped them into ink.
“Narvin?” Leela asked. “You sound unwell.”
The chair clattered loudly as he crashed to the floor, twitching uncontrollably. Distantly, Narvin heard Leela shouting for a doctor.
Leela did not like the infirmary. It was cramped and unfamiliar territory, and all the machines with their small beeping and hissing noises confused her remaining senses. She had to strain her ears to discern Narvin’s shallow breathing from everything else and watch for changes in it — without her sight, she could not otherwise tell if he was waking up. The nurse had said that he would, sooner or later.
Leela was still angry at Narvin, although even to herself she found it hard to explain exactly why his ‘proposition’ angered her. She was only half familiar with that word, it was something Romana would sometimes say when talking about politics, and it meant something like an offer. But Narvin had said it in the smug tone of someone who knew that he wouldn’t be refused. That alone would have been enough to annoy Leela. But worse — it was actually Narvin who needed her help, but instead of simply asking her, he had found a way to force her to help him. Romana had a word for that, too. Blackmail. Leela didn’t understand what it had to do with mail, but it sounded right to her ears, dark and unpleasant. Worst of all, Narvin seemed to expect her to be grateful, as if he had done her a favour.
She intended to tell him exactly what she thought of such behaviour when he woke up. But she also felt obliged to stay and watch his sickbed at least until he woke up again. It went against her every instinct to desert a man who was unable to defend himself, and more, she felt she owed Narvin that much for the time when they had fought side by side in the war.Had he just asked for her help, she would have given it freely.
A gasp told her that Narvin was waking. “The letters,” he whispered hoarsely after a moment, clearly confused. “I have to—”
“You are in the infirmary,” Leela told him. “I brought you here.”
“How long - ?”
“You are welcome, Narvin. The doctor said it was just in time. He said you were—”
“-poisoned, yes,” Narvin interrupted her impatiently. “I know. It must have been one of the letters on my desk.” He tried to sit up. A pained groan and the creak of the mattress told Leela he had not been successful. “I have to find out which one.”
“So no one else will get hurt?”
“So whoever sent it doesn’t have time to cover his tracks!” Narvin snapped, but raising his voice seemed to be a mistake. He gasped miserably for breath. “By now they probably already know it didn’t work, and the letter is my best chance of tracking them down.”
He was right, and Leela almost agreed, offered her help even, before she reminded herself that this was Narvin, who neither deserved nor properly appreciated anyone’s help.
“The doctor said you were lucky you did not regenerate,” Leela said, getting up. “Watch your own back, Narvin, because I will go now, and I will not save your life again. Perhaps if you learned to make friends and keep them, you would not have to try and force people to help you.”
“Friends?” Narvin called after her indignantly. “I’m the Co-ordinator of the CIA! It’s not my job to make friends!”
“That is your problem, Narvin,” Leela muttered under her breath. She was glad to leave. Narvin infuriated her like few other Time Lords could. Most of them were simply fools, and a few of them were monsters, but Narvin somehow united every facet of what made Time Lords unbearable. Like Romana, he was so fixated on his work that he was blind to anything else. Like Darkel, he was cruel and sly and too cowardly for a proper fight. Like the Doctor, he always thought he knew best and never stopped correcting her, but worst of all was that sometimes he seemed almost like a brave and honourable man, and for a moment reminded her why she had decided to stay on Gallifrey — only to turn around and prove her wrong once again.
Romana sat in astonished silence for a moment after Leela finished her tale, then she laughed. It was the same brittle, nervous laugh Leela had heard a couple of times from her since Matthias had become president. Romana was less tense now that she no longer had power, but instead, she had become bitter. Leela did not think it was a good exchange.
“What a strange, strange man he is, our Co-ordinator Narvin,” Romana said finally. “Asking you, of all people, for help!”
Leela considered asking Romana if she thought that Leela was no longer a good choice of bodyguard now that she was blind, but pride made her hold her silence. Instead, she asked, “Is it true, what Narvin said? Can he make me leave Gallifrey?”
“Foreign citizens on Gallifrey are one of the CIA’s responsibilities,” Romana conceded. “So, yes, he probably could. But I can’t help but think that there’s more behind this than just Narvin... it could be that Matthias wants you gone, too, just to get at me.”
Leela only half listened as Romana went on talking about Matthias. She was becoming obsessed with him, which Leela could not really understand. It was Braxiatel who had betrayed Romana, Matthias had only been going along with it. And yet, Romana said not a word about Braxiatel. It was as if Matthias had seized the presidency all by himself.
Romana stopped talking, and when Leela raised her head and paid attention, she could hear why — K-9 had come into the room. “Mistress,” he said, “I must leave now.”
“Leave?” Romana asked in surprise. “Where? Why?”
“To the CIA headquarters in the Panopticon,” K-9 replied. “To meet with Co-ordinator Narvin and receive further instructions.”
“Narvin?” Leela exclaimed. “Since when can he give you orders?”
“Correction, Mistress Leela. Co-ordinator Narvin has not given orders to this unit. He has sent a message requesting my assistance, and I have accepted.”
Leela turned in Romana’s direction, half-expecting a presidential outburst of fury, but Romana merely said bitterly, “I see. The rats are leaving the sinking ship.”
“Correction, Misstress. This unit is modelled on Earth species canis lupus, commonly known as ‘dog’, not rattus norwegicus, commonly known as—”
“Oh, you know very well what Romana means, K-9,” Leela scolded. “Is it true? Are you betraying her, too?”
“The request Co-ordinator Narvin has made is not related to Mistress Romana. In fact, there is a 74.9 per cent chance that my assisting Co-ordinator Narvin will be to her benefit.”
Romana perked up. “There is? How?”
“This unit is not authorized to reveal this information. You do not have the necessary security clearance.”
“Security clearance?” Romana sounded impressed. “Well, well. It seems Narvin is planning something big. I wonder what it might be.”
In a slightly smaller voice, K-9 said, “Suggestion, Mistress. My analysis shows that Co-ordinator Narvin is still likely to require Mistress Leela’s assistance.”
“Of course he does,” Leela scoffed. “That does not mean he will get it.”
Romana touched her arm. “No, Leela,” she said, her voice lowered to a conspiring whisper. “K-9 has a point. I want to know what Narvin is doing, especially if it could be to our advantage. And you could be my eyes and ears—” Romana faltered, realising what she’d said. “I’m sorry, Leela, I was just speaking metaphorically.”
“I know,” Leela said, stepping away from her. “If you had been saying what you truly mean, you would have said that I could be your spy.”
Romana sighed in resignation. “I suppose that is what I meant, yes. But Leela, you have to understand—” her voice turned imploring, giving way to the despair she felt, “there’s so little I can do! I’m going mad sitting here all day, cut off from the world and with nothing to do. You’re the only friend I have left! Nobody else can help me now, or I wouldn’t be asking you to do this.”
Leela shifted uneasily. “You are sure this... would help you?”
“Yes, yes, it would,” Romana said eagerly. “If I knew what was going on in the Panopticon right now, I could prepare for their next attack against me. My hearing is coming up, and I need whatever information I can get.”
This was not the first time Romana had asked her to spy on people. Leela had never liked it, but she liked it even less this time. The thought of spying on Narvin reminded her too much of what Andred had done. She also suspected that Romana was exaggerating to get her to agree. If that was true, then Romana was treating her little better than Narvin, only she was using hope to manipulate Leela where Narvin had tried to use fear. On the other hand, perhaps Romana was not exaggerating. Leela did not understand Time Lord politics well enough to be sure. Perhaps this really would help against Romana’s enemies. Even if it did not, Romana’s despair was genuine, and Leela could not refuse.
“Leela! What a surprise.”
Narvin didn’t bother to hide the fact that it wasn’t a very pleasant surprise at this juncture. He had hoped K-9 would come without either of his mistresses. He planned to deal with Leela later, preferably after the current unpleasant business was over, but of course he wasn’t so lucky. “What brings you back here?”
“Mistress Leela has reconsidered your offer of employment,” K-9 stated. Leela gave his metal casing a surreptitious little kick.
“Thank you, K-9, I can speak for myself.”
Narvin frowned at both of them. He had assumed that Leela had tagged along to tell him that he couldn’t borrow K-9, or to demand to know what he was needed for. Definitely not that she would want to be his bodyguard after all. Her rejection earlier had been very clear.
On the other hand — perhaps Romana had explained to her that the visa review was not Narvin’s fault. In that case, Narvin was willing to forgive Romana any number of false accusations she had levelled at him over the years.
“I’m sure you can, Leela. And what is it you wish to say to me?”
Leela hesitated a fraction too long. She could act well on occasion — Narvin had observed as much during the civil war — but ultimately, she was not good at hiding things. “I will watch your back for you, Narvin,” she said finally, but she clearly didn’t like saying it.
He suppressed his disappointment. “That’s good news, but, at present, I don’t require your company. I’ll be leaving the Citadel for a day.” Going to a place that was, if possible, even more dangerous than the CIA headquarters at the moment, but Narvin most certainly did not want Leela to come along, willingly or unwillingly.
“Oh?” Leela cocked her head slightly. “You are hunting your assassin in the outlands? But I could be very helpful to you there, much more than K-9.”
“What? Oh, no, no.” Narvin shook his head emphatically, “K-9 isn’t going to come along either. He’s going to stay right here in my office. You can stay with him, if that’s what you want.”
“Co-ordinator Narvin has requested that this unit act as his secretary while he is away,” K-9 explained to Leela. The robot dog sounded just a little smug as it added, “I will be acting Chief Co-ordinator of the CIA.”
Leela looked astonished for a moment before breaking into hearty laughter. “You want K-9 to do your job, Narvin? First me, then him - are you that desperate?”
For once, Narvin was glad that Leela could not see him, because he felt his cheeks heating at her laughter. “I am not desperate! I simply need someone who is suitable for the job. And at the moment, that happens to be K-9. He is competent, reliable, and not a suspect in my attempted murder. In fact, while appearances may be deceiving, I consider K-9 to be one of the most powerful computers on Gallifrey, now we have lost the Matrix.”
“Oh,” Leela said, still laughing, “did you hear that, K-9? I think Narvin likes you.”
Narvin tugged at his gloves sharply. “I really don’t have time for this. K-9, all the necessary instructions are in the files I transmitted to you earlier. Hopefully, I will be back before tomorrow. Leela — have a good day.”
Predictably (no one ever left him alone when Narvin needed to be left alone), Leela followed him out of his office. Every single agent they passed stared insolently at them, but of course, Leela couldn’t see that. Only Narvin could, and he didn’t have the time to tell them to mind their own business.
“I do not believe you,” Leela told him. “If where you are going is not dangerous, why do you carry a gun?”
Narvin instinctively reached for his staser. “How do you —”
“I heard you checking the safety when I entered your office. Now where are we going?”
“We aren’t going anywhere. If you must know, this is a personal matter. It has nothing to do with my job. It’s... family business.”
“Family business?” Leela echoed, utterly amazed. “Why, Narvin, I did not know you had a family!”
“Of course I do! Why wouldn’t I? I’ll have you know that House Stillhaven is one of the great old Houses of Gallifrey - a good deal older than Deeptree or Heartshaven, as a matter of fact.”
Leela’s expression softened. “You are telling the truth.”
“How kind of you to believe me. At last. Now please, I’m on a tight schedule, and I need to get to the other side of Mount Cadon before nightfall. Get out of my way.”
They had reached the CIA’s transport resort, which at the moment consisted only of a few newly-birthed TARDISes and a couple of flyers. It was for one of these that Narvin was headed. Leela, though, continued to follow him doggedly. Before he could get into the flyer, Leela stepped in front of the door, blocking his way.
“You would not leave to visit your family at a time like this if it was not important. You never do anything without an alt-,” Leela stumbled over the word, trying to remember it, “an ulti —”
“An ulterior motive,” Narvin supplied with a sigh.
“Yes, that. Is it the assassin? Do you think he will go after your tribe?”
“No! This has nothing to do with the assassin. I don’t have time for this! Leave me alone, or I will have to tell K-9 to send a couple of agents and you’ll be spending a night in a CIA holding cell.”
Leela snorted. “K-9 would not do that! But if you will not let me come with you, I will go to Matthias and tell him that you are keeping secrets from him.”
Narvin flinched — Leela had no idea what she was threatening. “No! The president can under no circumstances know about this!”
“Then I will be coming with you,” Leela said, giving him a toothy smile.
“Very well,” he sighed, “but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“I must have been mad,” Narvin groaned thirty microspans later when he realized just how difficult this was going to be. His life all too often resembled a never-ending string of disasters, but this was going to be a special one. “Everything would be much easier for both of us if you just wear these robes for a few hours.” Once again he tried to give Leela the robes he’d found in back of the flyer. “They’re in every way superior to animal skins: they’re clean, as good as new, perfect in all weather conditions—“
“How do you know that they’re superior?” Leela asked. “Have you ever worn leathers?”
“I shouldn’t even have to answer such an inane question. No Time Lord would ever wear dead animal matter when there are perfectly good synthetic materials.”
“Romana has leather shoes in her closet. I have seen them myself, they are red, ” Leela said triumphantly.
“Well, even Romana is prudent enough to keep them in her closet, isn’t she?”
“I am wearing the clothes of a warrior of the Sevateem. Why should I wear anything else?”
“You’re dressed very... informally.” Diplomatically Narvin did not mention that Leela was wearing pretty much exactly what she had been wearing when she had gone undercover as an exotic dancer. Not that he was ever going to mention that mission at all if he could avoid it.
Leela did not seem to find it diplomatic. “You mean, like an alien.”
“I meant what I said. We’re attending a very formal occasion.”
Leela crossed her arms. “I do not want your robes, Narvin.”
“There’s nothing wrong with these robes! They’re CIA standard issue—”
Leela’s tone slipped, from irritated to genuinely upset. “That is what is wrong with them!”
Narvin sat back, still holding the robes. He hadn’t anticipated this. “You despise the agency that much?”
Leela turned away from him, her mouth twisting bitterly. “Andred wore this when he became Torvald.”
“Ah, I see.” Narvin wished he’d thought of that sooner. He didn’t want Leela to think that he had forgotten about Andred. He hadn’t — after his mistake of trusting Darkel, the whole business with Andred and Torvald was one of the biggest debacles of Narvin’s career, and he still felt a sting just thinking about it. Considering that Narvin had more or less caused Andred to go undercover, and had then failed to notice it, before helping Darkel to the point where she drove Romana to consult Pandora, which had in turn led to Andred being killed, a good portion of the blame belonged to Narvin. It was all a series of extremely unfortunate misjudgements on his behalf — anything but professional.
He busied himself with the flight controls, then stared out at the slopes of vast Mount Cadon, glowing red in the dusk, as they zipped past. Leela remained silent, and even though she could not see, Narvin couldn’t make himself turn around to look at her.
“Andred was... a good agent,” Narvin said.
“I do not want to hear this!”
“No, Leela, listen to me. Andred was a better agent than Torvald ever was because he did what he did for Gallifrey. I can’t agree with his methods, but I respect his intentions. His death was a tragedy that could have been avoided if only I’d realised soon what was going on right under my nose.”
Only at the time, Narvin had never suspected that anything was wrong with Torvald. He’d simply thought that regeneration had much improved Torvald’s work ethic. Andred had seemed keen and loyal, focused on the job rather than power politics, and Narvin had enjoyed working with him. He hadn’t just been a good agent. He’d been a good second in command, a good sounding board for ideas, a good... right hand man, Narvin supposed the appropriate term was — it was, in any case, more professional than ‘friend’.
Leela made no sound but an indrawn breath. Then, after another long pause, she spoke, her voice harsh. “Romana sent me to spy on you.”
“Oh,” Narvin said, not sure whether to be upset because still thought he deserved to be distrusted or upset because he’d been fooled a second time.
“But I will not be a spy.” Leela’s voice trembled a little. It was impossible to tell whether in anger or fear. “Not for her, not for you, not for anyone. Not... not after what it did to Andred. I will not become like him!”
She attempted to rise from her seat, which in a craft as small as the flyer wasn’t a good idea when you were flying at full speed and navigating the treacherous updrafts of Mount Cadon. Narvin tried to placate her.
“I really see no danger of that ever happening. You’ll never make a good spy.”
Leela’s breathing calmed a little, and she lowered her voice to a normal level. “You think so?”
“I do. Trust me.”
She laughed bitterly. “Do you say that as a spy?”
“I say that as someone whose first choice of career wasn’t the CIA,” Narvin told her. “When I entered basic training, I found this immensely frustrating. Machines don’t dissemble or act illogically. They obey their own laws to a fault. You can be a perfectly good data technician without ever coming across a moral dilemma. As a spy, you don’t just have to make compromises. You have to compromise yourself. You can’t afford trust or friendship or honour. To uphold your most precious ideals, you sometimes have to betray them. That’s what Andred tried to do, and it broke him. It would break you too, if you ever tried it.”
“It did not break you.”
Narvin glanced at Leela, unsure if that was a question, or a statement, or an expression of doubt.
“No,” he said. “I find it doesn’t affect me very much.”
Leela hadn’t been this upset since she’d lost her sight, perhaps even since Andred died. Talking to Narvin had torn up all the old, badly healed wounds. She knew, in her heart of hearts, that the robes didn’t really mean anything. The Doctor had once said to her, when she had asked him why he wore such a long scarf, “It’s not the clothes that make the man, Leela, it’s the man who makes the clothes. And I don’t mean the formidable lady who knitted this scarf, because she certainly isn’t a man.” Which was the kind of thing the Doctor said, and you never knew if he was being a wise man or a fool, but Leela thought he was right.
Some clothes had real power, like the sash of the president worn here on Gallifrey, or the ceremonial garb of the shaman of the Sevateem, but they had power because they were tools, man-made and useful, not because of the way they looked. The power of these CIA robes lay only in her mind, it worked only if she let it, and Leela was afraid of them because she didn’t know if she was stronger than they were. Once she had thought she was stronger than Andred, but was she really? This was a fight where a good blade and a strong arm were useless, where all she had was her heart, and that felt tired and ragged, worn out like the leather sole of a boot one has walked too far in.
“We’ll be arriving in less than ten microspans,” Narvin announced next to her, and she could hear him rubbing his temples, and then reaching for his staser again with the soft slide of gloves over metal. It was an oddly comforting sound. Clearly, Narvin expected trouble, and trouble was the only thing left that gladdened Leela’s heart. “Tell me,” she asked, straightening, “why is it that you need a gun to visit your tribe?”
“I’m not planning to use it,” Narvin replied, shifting uncomfortably. “It’s merely a precaution. If it does come to a fight, we’d be outnumbered. So, please, Leela, do try and refrain from provoking anyone.”
“Outnumbered? Do many of your people live where we are going?”
“Usually not, but today is a special occasion. I suppose I might as well tell you. I’m attending a wake, and the reading of a will.”
“Someone has died?”
Narvin chuckled darkly. “Oh yes, somebody has. You were even there, Leela.”
“I was? But I have never met any of your relatives!” Narvin had to be mistaken — or maybe he had kept it to himself? Leela tried to remember if any of the people who had died in the war had especially upset Narvin. She couldn’t think of anyone, but then, she had not been paying much attention to Narvin’s feelings, since like most Time Lords, he was doing his best to pretend he didn’t have any, and Leela usually had enough trouble puzzling out Romana’s. “Who is it?”
“Inquisitor Prime Darkel,” Narvin said, savouring the reveal.
“Darkel!” Leela exclaimed, her hand finding her blade instinctively. “She is your relative?”
“Not a close one, but she certainly was,” Narvin said evenly. “Don’t be so surprised Leela. Most of the old Houses are related to each other. Why, I believe Romana and I are distant cousins of some sort, and the former President Braxiatel was, among other, less reputable connections, related to President Flavia—”
“It is not that,” Leela interrupted to stop Narvin from unearthing his entire family tree. “Everyone was related to everyone else in my tribe, too.”
“Of course I’m not talking about actual blood relations,” Narvin continued, ignoring her. “If we still procreated biologically, Gallifrey’s leading elite would be terribly inbred. There is a reason Time Lords are so superior to lesser species, and it’s not just our longevity. Most of us are the product of lots of careful genetic engineering, even if we do carry some of the genes of our parents.”
“Oh, that is not so special,” Leela said, mostly to irritate Narvin because he was irritating her with his arrogance. “On my world, there was a mad computer who bred people like animals, just as you do with your children. My tribe, the Sevateem, were selected for being strong and brave fighters who could survive in the forest, while the Tesh lived in their base with all their machines and became very smart — so smart that they could do psychic tricks with their minds.”
It turned out that Narvin was not so much irritated by this as stunned. “I, well, I certainly never guessed your people had anything like advanced eugenics. I was led to believe they were simply primitive humans.”
“There is no need to sound so impressed,” Leela said, even more annoyed. “It was not a good thing!”
“Even so, you have to admit it worked — at least judging by you. I can’t imagine hat there are many humans as suited to violence and survival as you are — and with none of the usual defects of inbreeding, too,” Narvin said in a tone so smug it made Leela want to demonstrate some of that violence. She heard him operating the flight controls, then he said, in a more sober tone of voice, “I am not attending this wake out of any courtesy to my family or Darkel, Leela. You have to understand — House Stillhaven is extremely conservative. None of us supported Romana when she came into office, and Stillhaven became more opposed to her with every reform she tried to push through. Traditionally, there is a hardly a house more respectable or politically stable than my family, and it certainly wouldn’t have occurred to any cousin of Stillhaven to oppose a lawfully elected president in the past — but I fear that may have changed.”
“They are our enemies.”
“That depends on who you mean by ‘us’.”
“Romana, and anyone who is loyal to her. Who else would I mean?”
“Of course, I forgot,” Narvin muttered. “But that isn’t all. Braxiatel was hardly popular among my house either, and whatever they thought of Matthias before the election, now he has defeated Darkel and has been handed the presidency by Braxiatel, I’m certain they view him as Romana’s man.”
“Even though he is not.”
“It may be too soon to judge that.” Narvin’s tone made Leela think that either he knew more than she did, or was pretending to know more — you never quite knew with Time Lords, they all liked to do that. “Anyway, it doesn’t really matter at the moment. What matters is that the renowned House of Stillhaven believes that Matthias is as bad as Romana, and since I am loyal to the president, I must be as bad as him. Which is frankly ridiculous, and not why I expected of my family, since I’ve always made it exceedingly clear that I approve of none of Romana’s more radical reforms—”
“They are your enemies, too,” Leela summarised.
Narvin sighed wearily. “Yes. The letter that nearly poisoned me? It was my invitation to the wake.”
The motherhouse of Stillhaven had been located on a vast estate on the northern slopes of Mount Cadon since time immemorial. Its foundations had been laid before even the mighty citadel had been built, and since then, generations had continued to thrive there, sequestered in the clear, calm air of the mountains, far away from the troubled life of the Capital. It was almost a settlement of its own, housing at any time between twenty and two-hundred cousins of Stillhaven. Narvin had never spent much time on the grounds as a child, and it still surprised him to see how vast they truly were. The land served no purpose — farming had died out long before Rassilon’s time, and hunting, even as a sport, had been out of fashion for millennia. Perhaps in these uncertain times, people would start to build in this isolated area again.
At present, Stillhaven was teeming with people. As he pulled in for the landing, Narvin could see a small fleet of fliers, skippers and other vehicles scattered on the lawn like boats tied to a mooring, with their solar panels and gleaming metal surfaces ablaze in the last sunlight.
Narvin threw one last unhappy glance at Leela. Everyone would recognise her instantly for Romana’s alien bodyguard, on the other hand, Narvin’s black and white CIA robes were just as conspicuous. He could have tried to go incognito, in civilian clothes — he still owned a number of Arcalian robes with which he would have blended in easily among his cousins — but the half-formed plan in his head required the protection of authority. Narvin had therefore chosen his most ostentatious dress uniform, which had gold piping, an impractical sash and a very uncomfortable collar that itched where it came into contact with the faded scars from the bomb blast that had nearly killed him during the war. Still, there was a difference between being impressive and looking as if you were to be the evening’s entertainment.
“Leela,” he said to her in his most imploring tone, “let me do the talking.”
“I have no wish to talk to your tribe,” Leela said, looking rather distracted as she stepped cautiously out of the flyer and onto the grass. For a moment, a smile lit up her features, and she lifted her face towards the sun, basking in its light, then her expression darkened again, and she sighed. “The air smells fresh and bright in this place. I wish I could see the sky.”
“The valley is said to be... picturesque,” Narvin admitted reluctantly.
“That means beautiful?”
He didn’t reply. Leela’s interest had made him take a closer look at the site and everywhere, Narvin saw changes that took his breath away. When Leela noticed his silence, she stepped closer. “Is something wrong?” she asked in low voice.
“The south gate is barricaded,” Narvin said, turning slightly as he spoke, and noticing more changes with each passing moment. “There are scorch marks on the walls, and refugee tents on the lawn. I hadn’t realized the war had come this far.”
“You did not check if your family was well?”
“There was no time,” Narvin snapped. More quietly he added, “And I never thought that Stillhaven would ever see war. These walls have not seen a single shot fired for tens of thousands of years. In my youth, bringing a weapon to an occasion like this would have caused a scandal — now there are armed guards at the door. Gallifrey is— Gallifrey was the galaxy’s oldest peaceful civilisation. There hasn’t been a war fought on Gallifreyan ground for long than it takes most species to develop sentience. We have some of the deadliest, most powerful weapons in the universe, but since the wars fought by Rassilon, we have never used them to conquer or destroy. That is what makes us the greatest civilisation of all, don’t you see, Leela? Peace and stability.”
“No longer the greatest,” Leela said. “War has come to Gallifrey, and now you are no different from the rest of us.”
It smarted — especially as Leela took no pains to hide her satisfaction — but it was true.
“We’re late,” Narvin said, summoning up all the dignity and authority he could muster. “It looks as if most guests have already arrived. Stay close by my side.”
“To ‘watch your back’?” Leela asked as she followed him, still cautious in the unfamiliar terrain.
“Yes, but also to listen closely to what people are saying. Use those instincts of yours, and tell me, quietly, if there is anything suspicious.”
“But if it is this dangerous, why did you not bring along more weapons and people?” Leela asked.
“Later,” Narvin said, because they had reached the entrance of the main court, where, to Narvin’s surprise, a stiff-necked young man in the livery of Stillhaven’s guards was holding a staser and checking invitations.
“Name?” the guard demanded.
“Chief Co-ordinator Narvin of the CIA. I’m on the list.” The guard was hardly paying attention to the list, instead, he was staring, half-mocking, half salacious, at Leela. Narvin narrowed his eyes. “And this is the Lady Leela of Deeptree.”
Leela turned around in instant indignation. “I am no Lady of—”
Narvin discreetly elbowed her in the side, which under any other circumstances, he wouldn’t have dared. “The Lady Leela of Deeptree,” he repeated more loudly, and simply shouldered past the guard, dragging Leela along.
“At this rate, you’ll get us thrown out before we’re even in,” he hissed furiously at Leela.
“But I am no Lady of Deeptree,” she hissed back, shaking him off. “Andred is dead, and I am just Leela of the Sevateem. Is that not enough for you?”
“I’d introduce you as Rassilon’s secret daughter, if I thought it would impress anyone here,” Narvin snapped. “Honestly, you don’t have a subtle bone in your body, do you?”
Leela was prevented from replying by the gong being beaten. The assembled guests stood silently facing the podium where an ancient man in ceremonial robes was beating the gong. Next to the gong, an urn rested on a pedestal. The old man cleared his throat. “In the noble name and solemn memory of Darkellaquistraastrid, I welcome all who have been invited to this wake.”
This ended the ceremonial part of the evening, and Narvin wasn’t disappointed to have missed the rites and speeches. No doubt Darkel had requested a full service with all imaginable pomp. Most of the younger attendants looked shell-shocked into boredom, but the older, savvier family members were already spreading out on the lawn and mingling. Politics and intrigue in her memory — Darkel would have approved.
Before he could even scan the crowd for anyone he suspected of trying to poison him, they were approached by a short, elderly Time Lord. He was ancient, both in this body and in years, but his cheeks retained a vital glow. “Who do I spy with my old eyes?” he exclaimed, laughing at his own pun. “If it isn’t my favourite nephew, little Narvin! How are the bugs these days? Marged still keeps them in the attic, you know. Always going about what a waste it was that you didn’t make a career at the Academy.”
Narvin dearly wished he could have escaped, but his uncle had already latched onto his arm with a skeletal but powerful grip.
“I’m working for the CIA these days, Uncle Pendell,” he said through his teeth.
Pendell had always been Narvin’s least favourite Uncle. The man had been a news broadcaster before his retirement, and was still an incessant prattler who liked nothing better than to drag out everyone’s most embarrassing secrets. Right now, he was winking at Leela.
“Of course, son,” he said to Narvin, “but even a co-ordinator must have hobbies. Though I see you’ve moved on to rather more exotic fauna.”
Leela lifted her chin, glaring at a spot slightly to the left of Pendell’s face. “Careful, old man! I know that word, and I do not like it.”
“And neither do I,” Narvin said quickly to prevent a direct confrontation (it was perfectly true, since hearing ‘exotic’ and Leela mentioned in the same sentence had caused him to flush embarrassingly ever since that thrice-damned fake conference). “Leela is-” damn it, he couldn’t even call her one of his agents, because then Leela would gut him instead of Pendell, “Leela is my personal escort.” No, no, extremely bad, “I mean, she’s my bodyguard. My personal bodyguard.”
Pendell’s brows climbed into the vicinity of his scruffy white hair, and he began to chortle. He lowered his voice, “Well, then I hope she’s got more up her not very ample sleeves than some knives, if you know what I mean.”
Leela took a step closer, “I will show you my knives!”
Whatever else you could say about Pendell, though, he wasn’t a coward. He’d insulted at least five different presidents to their face in his lifetime and lived to tell the tale, and Leela’s fury only caused him to sidestep a little. “Please don’t, my dear, I wouldn’t want to embarrass Narvin. He’s far too good at doing that himself.” Pendell patted Narvin’s shoulder. “Do keep out of trouble, Narvin. There are some people here today who think you’ve rather made a mess of things, politically.”
With that, he turned on his heels, nimbly avoided a servitor with a tray of drinks, and would have been lost in the crowd if Narvin hadn’t followed him.
“Wait a moment,” he gasped, tugging his sleeve from Leela’s grip, and trying to lower his voice again. “Pendell. You said there were some people — but you wouldn’t know who, exactly?”
Mortifying though its delivery had been, Pendell’s warning might actually have been a gesture of friendship. Perhaps he was willing to make another one, and if there was anyone in Stillhaven who knew about rumours, then it was him.
Pendell frowned, and kept his distance. “I should say just about everyone,” he said, no longer genial. “And if you wished to be forgiven, I can’t see why you brought the ex-president’s bodyguard along with you. It seems a little clumsy, politically speaking, even for you. Now excuse me, I have a buffet to attend to.”
Pendell left, and this time, Narvin didn’t attempt to stop him. He felt strangely unsettled by this unexpected development. There were some people among his family whom Narvin would have suspected of trying to kill him if it were practical, but Pendell wasn’t one of them. Was he scared of Darkel’s cronies, or did he simply not care?
“You are surprised,” Leela said, too perceptive as always. “Is your uncle not always this rude?”
“Rude? Yes,” Narvin replied. “But not ruthless.”
He surveyed the crowd once more, noticing who was and who wasn’t obviously staring at them. Over near the podium, the most powerful members of Stillhaven stood in a loose circle of their own — Lady Tamarged, Cardinal Valoxin, Lord Hilding, who was said to be a candidate for the next Inquisitor Prime, and a number of their spouses and closest associates. Pendell had just joined them, and laughed at something Hilding said.
Leela suddenly touched his shoulder. “There is someone watching us,” she whispered. “I can feel it.”
Narvin waved for one of the servitors, using that movement to try and see if Leela was right. But instead of a servitor, he was handed a drink by a woman wearing Arcalian green and an amused smirk. “I see you’re watching the inner circle,” she said. “You should join them, Narvin, you’ve earned your place among them. Even Darkel almost respected you in the end.”
“Stop,” Leela said, her knife halfway out of its sheath. “Do not touch him.”
The woman laughed and handed Leela another glass of wine. “If I were trying to kill Narvin, it wouldn’t be this obvious. Won’t you introduce us, Narvin?”
“Eulidia,” Narvin said flatly. He should have realized that she would be here.
“Chairwoman Eulidia,” she corrected him, “but you may call me Eulidia for old time’s sake. Now who’s your delightfully unlikely accomplice?”
“I am Leela,” Leela said, swallowing a mouthful of wine, “This drink is good Narvin, it is not poisoned.”
“Fascinating,” Eulidia said. “Genetically enhanced taste receptors to make up for her blindness?”
“No, Leela is all natural.” Narvin shifted uncomfortably between them, trying to think of a way to end this conversation quickly. Eulidia might help, but she might just as well be the enemy. Narvin had never understood her. “I’m not here to chat.”
“Of course not,” Eulidia said over the rim of her own glass. “You’re here for the reading of Darkel’s will.”
“Oh,” Leela exclaimed, forgetting to keep her voice down. “So that is why we are here! Darkel had something you want, and she is going to pass it on to her heirs.”
“A fine tongue and a fine mind, too.” Leela seemed momentarily puzzled by the compliment, or perhaps its amused delivery. Eulidia laughed at the sudden silence, glancing from Leela to Narvin. “I think Darkel was wrong about you, Narvin. She thought that President Romana had bewitched you with her girlish charms, but clearly Romana’s side had more to offer than that.”
Narvin choked on his wine. “Darkel thought what?”
“I told her it was ridiculous, but Darkel was always fond of you in her own way. I remember when she kept going on about what a politically advantageous match you might one day be if you had someone to help you along with your career in the CIA...”
“Someone to help me along...?! All Darkel ever did was use me for her own gain!” Narvin sputtered.
“Yes,” Eulidia nodded, “dear old Darkel. I shall miss her, now and then.”
With that, she wandered gracefully off into the crowd, leaving Narvin to stare open-mouthed after her. Leela, who had finished her wine and dropped the glass on the ground, still looked puzzled. “Romana is not a witch! And what did she mean by ‘had more to offer’?”
“I doubt she meant anything at all. She was most likely having a laugh at our expense,” Narvin said darkly.
Leela shook her head. “I cannot tell if this woman was a friend or foe, and yet... I think she likes you. It is very strange... I do not think I have ever met someone who likes you.”
“I doubt she does,” Narvin muttered. He was still insulted by Eulidia’s ridiculous insinuations, but something she’d said had jogged a memory, and he was beginning to understand just how long Darkel had been trying to use him. She must have known, from the moment he joined the CIA, that he could be her in-road into a world that House Stillhaven had little connection with otherwise.
Leela was apparently unwilling to let the matter go. “She does not like you? Why?”
“Because she’s Darkel’s sister. And I nearly married her, once.”
Leela laughed out loud. “Eulidia was your betrothed? Was it a ‘political’ marriage?”
On Eulidia’s side it would certainly have been a political marriage. They’d known each other since childhood, but Eulidia had never shown any romantic interest in him until he’d joined the CIA. Her sudden interest had made sense to Narvin then — he’d been young, inexperienced and entirely too gullible to see Darkel pulling the strings. His best guess had been that women simply found spies more attractive than data technicians, and that even Eulidia, however sensible otherwise, could not help but fall for the dangerous charm of his new profession. Naturally he’d been pleased, then flattered, then smug. He’d even flirted with the idea of becoming respected and popular. The bubble had burst when Eulidia had broken off the engagement.
“I’m sure you’ll have a brilliant career as a spy, Narvin,” she’d said to him, “but I find this whole business of political marriage too tedious for words.” It had been mortifying, even hurtful, but in hindsight, Narvin could appreciate that a little cynicism went a long way in the CIA. From that day on, he’d never again wasted a thought on popularity, power or personal glory. He’d focused entirely on his career for its own sake, and eventually, found the service more fulfilling than marriage could ever have been. Without Eulidia, he might never have been the agent he was, but with her as his wife, he might indeed have been precisely the vain and corruptible man Darkel had wished him to be.
“Yes,” Narvin said in answer to Leela’s question, feeling a cold shiver at the thought of the path his life could have taken. “It would have been a political marriage.”
In hindsight, Leela was beginning to appreciate Andred’s family. When they had been newly married, she had asked him not to make her be friends with his family, because, although some his people had made a token effort to welcome her, Leela had known she would never fit in with them, at least not happily. But at least they had loved Andred enough to accept his chosen mate.
Narvin’s family, however, could only be compared to a pit full of hoarders. She was almost glad when the gong was beaten again and they were called to order by an elder of the tribe who announced that Darkel’s will would now be read. It bothered Leela that she still didn’t know what Narvin had come here for. If it belonged to Darkel, and if Narvin wanted it, then it could only be something dangerous. Perhaps one of Pandora’s secret weapons? She wished she could see, and she wished she had a better idea of her surroundings, in case they had to flee. And she would have given almost anything for K-9 to be at her side.
The list of things Darkel had owned was very long, and she had apparently bequeathed each and every last thing to a different one of her relatives. Leela found it very tiresome. Why divide your possessions thus? And who would want to own Darkel’s robes, anyway? With each item, Narvin seemed to grow more agitated, muttering to himself in a low voice about Darkel being a sly and devious woman.
Leela leaned close to him to whisper in his ear, “Is that which we came for not on the list?”
Narvin startled. “I fear Darkel may have anticipated my presence. Any number of those chests and scrolls and ceremonial hats could contain it.”
“So what do we do?”
“There’s only one thing we can do,” he said grimly.
“Will there be a fight?” Leela would well have liked to cut up a few of Narvin’s tribe, but she feared they would be outnumbered.
“Let’s hope not. But if you must, as the Co-ordinator of the CIA I authorize you to use any force necessary.” He pressed a small staser into her hand.
Leela took a deep breath. It would be good to die here, under the open sky, with grass beneath her feet and the clear night air cooling her face. “So be it, then,” she said.
When the elder neared the end of the will, Narvin started forward, pushing his way through the crowd. Leela followed him, gripping the sleeve of his robe with one hand and doing her best to appear threatening to those around them. They broke free of the crowd close to the speaker, who stopped in the middle of his speech to clear his throat in annoyance and demand, “What’s all this commotion about?”
“I’m sorry, Drower,” Narvin said, raising his voice over the murmuring crowd, “but I hereby declare this meeting unlawful under article 237 of the constitution of Gallifrey.”
“Two-hundred and thirty-seven?” someone wheezed indignantly to Leela’s right. “What does that youngster think he’s getting at?”
“Two-hundred and thirty-seven,” Narvin confirmed, and Leela could tell that he was grimly enjoying this. “Under the provision of Emergency Law, any assembly of more than ten people has to be authorized by the High Council, the Castellan, or the CIA, otherwise all present are suspect of high treason.”
“Under Emergency Law,” a female voice objected. “But we’re not!”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Cardinal Drella.” Narvin stepped up onto the podium. “President Matthias has only been in office for three days, and he has not, officially, declared that we’re no longer in a State of Emergency. As the highest legal authority in this place, I am well within my right to disperse this assembly and to confiscate all the items on this list.”
An outcry rose among the mourners, but none dared threaten Narvin directly. For a moment, Leela thought he might have won this battle with nothing but words. Then the elder cleared his throat again, thumped something heavy on the ground.
“As I was about to say,” he continued, “the last item on this list reads, ‘Should my cousin Narvin do me the honour of attending this reading, I leave to him the key to my vaults.’”
Narvin stilled. “Oh. Well. That’s... unexpected.”
“No!” Leela shouted, and tried to pull him back, but it was too late. Even as she grabbed him, there was a loud crack, Narvin twitched under her hands, and they both went down. Leela jumped back to her feet, wildly pointing her staser in every direction. “Off!” she yelled. “Get away from me, or I will shoot!”
Something pricked her shoulder, no more painful than a gnat’s bite. By the time Leela realised that it was poison, her legs gave out under her and she joined Narvin on the ground.
For a while, Leela thought Narvin might be dead, but then she heard him breathe again, and finally come to with a soft moan.
“Narvin?” she called out as loud as she dared, not knowing who might be nearby and listening. All Leela could tell was that they were somewhere cold and underground, probably a cellar or a dungeon, and that there were heavy chains around her wrists, shackling her to something heavy and wooden. “Wake up!”
Narvin mumbled something, then started awake. “The key!”
“Why did you touch it? It was Darkel’s - of course it was a trap!”
“Because it looked like - never mind. Where are we?”
“I cannot see.” Leela rattled her chains angrily. “Someone pricked me with a poison thorn, and I fainted. When I woke up, I heard them say that they were taking you to a doctor, but this is not a healing place.”
Narvin sniffed. “No, smells more like the wine cellar. It was probably a ruse... which means that not everyone at the wake was aware that people are trying to kill me. Someone’s covering this up. But I’m surprised my mother would fall for it...”
A door creaked in its handles, and people approached. Two, Leela thought, listening to their steps and the sweeps of their robes: one of them puffing and short of breath, like an old person, one of them wearing heavy boots, probably a guard.
“So you are awake again, Narvin,” a woman said. She sounded old, like one who speaks with wisdom and authority, or perhaps only great power.
“Lady Tamarged,” Narvin said softly. For the first time today, he sounded not just surprised, but insecure.
“I wouldn’t believe it when Darkel said it,” the woman continued sharply, “but you are a disgrace to your House, Narvin. I loomed you myself, and this is your thanks? Declaring us all traitors? Besmirching the memory of one far greater than you, one who brought nothing but fame to Stillhaven? And for what? A President who would have dragged Gallifrey to ruin, had she not been stopped by Darkel.”
“Are you aware,” Narvin interrupted her, high-pitched and tense, “that the key was a trap engineered by me for Darkel? And someone here poisoned my invitation! Or are you telling me you authorized all this?”
“Not the letter,” Tamarged said coldly, “but now I wish that fool Kelner hadn’t failed. It would have saved me the pain of looking at you now. As it is, I’ve made certain arrangements. You’ll soon see the error of your ways, Narvin, and then we may talk about how you can regain my trust.”
Narvin’s breath hitched. “Arrangements?”
“Cardinal Valoxin has kindly promised to lend me one of the Academy’s emergency regeneration chambers. Until then, I recommend you meditate on your mistakes and prepare yourself for a fresh start.”
Narvin made no reply.
“What about me?” Leela demanded. “You cannot let me rot down here! Give me a honourable death, a fight—”
Tamarged’s voice was laced with disgust. “I’ll let Narvin decide that, once he’s come to his senses. I think it’ll prove... cathartic.”
Their footsteps were fading in the distance before Leela spoke again, softly this time. “That woman - she was your mother?”
Leela hesitated. Her own mother had died when she was not yet of age, and she had only faint memories of her, but they were loving and dear to her. She could not imagine how a mother could ever act like this towards her own child, even a Time Lady. “Will they kill you? With this ‘emergency regeneration chamber’?”
“No.” Narvin sounded as if he had to force himself to speak. “No, it’s a device used to induce forced regeneration. It’s usually used as a form of punishment less extreme than dispersion, or in medical emergencies. It... it seems my mother thinks I’ll change my mind once I’ve regenerated.”
“Oh.” Regeneration sounded like a terrible punishment to Leela, worse than dispersal, which only killed you. Regeneration meant that you lived on, yourself and yet not yourself, like a ghost or a revenant haunting your own life. She would have preferred a hundred deaths to regeneration.
Narvin suddenly laughed, the sound echoing hollowly in the cellar. “Forced regeneration! It’s something you do to degenerates, to madmen. This is utterly ridiculous. I won’t change my mind about what is right because of I’ve regenerated!”
“It wasn’t Andred’s regeneration that changed him so radically, it was what he did afterwards. He became who he pretended to be.” Narvin paused. His tone became intrigued. “Although... that gives me an idea. It might just work. I can pretend to come to my senses and beg my mother for forgiveness - and get right at Darkel’s plans! Don’t worry, I’ll find a way to convince her that you’re more useful to her alive than dead, you’ll just have to play along with whatever I say...”
Leela strained against the chains around her wrists so hard it hurt. “No! What if you end up like Andred, becoming who you pretend to be? You cannot risk that!”
“Oh please.” Narvin chuckled, slightly hysterical. “Andred took things far too personally, that’s why he became so confused. I, on the other hand will keep a cool and rational distance between me and my act. I’m not on some sort of ill-considered personal crusade here, I’m merely doing my job.”
“Why do you pretend not to care?” Leela exclaimed. “You do not have to lie to me! I know what it is like when your tribe wants to kill you for being right because they are all wrong and will not change their minds. Standing up against those you love is like cutting your own heart out with a dull knife.”
“You clearly haven’t the slightest notion of what family means on Gallifrey, so please stop making these utterly unfounded assumptions about my emotional state.” He laughed dully. “Love! What did Andred tell you about us? A Gallifreyan child is expected to be loyal towards his House, respectful. Love has nothing to do with it.”
“It has everything to do with love! How can you be loyal if you do not love? Without love, what you call loyalty is only blind obedience. And how can you love what you do not respect? Without respect, love is only... I do not know what it is. But it is not love.”
They were left alone. Narvin’s comlink had been taken away while he was unconscious, so they could not try to get any outside help, and the chains apparently proved to be too strong even for Leela, who would not stop pulling and squirming, exerting herself to no avail.
Narvin closed his eyes and tried to meditate as his mother had told him. A regeneration was always easier when you were calm and prepared. Ordinarily, Narvin had little use for meditation — his mind, when left to its own devices, tended to seize on the nearest worry until he grew entirely too agitated to achieve any sort of mental balance. But right now, Narvin’s mind felt blank, and all he had to do was let it drift.
He ended up thinking about Leela’s strange ideas about love. They weren’t what he’d expected from her. He’d always assumed that she was one of those romantic, sentimental fools for whom everything was a matter of passion and feeling, inconstant, violent, uncontrolled — after all, she had married for love into a society she could hardly understand.
But if you could substitute love for respect, for loyalty, then it changed everything. If that was what Leela meant by love, then they merely spoke different languages while meaning the same thing. He had never considered it before because Leela’s behaviour was always brash and emotional, but she did insist that she was a warrior, and that, in a primitive, tribal society like hers had to mean more than combat training. It was a way of life — not law, precisely, more a code of conduct, of honour. She would have been raised to depend on her fellow warriors and be dependable in return — a loyalty that could not be enforced, but had to be based on mutual trust, respect, a sort of love even. To ensure survival of the tribe, you had to value everyone in it as highly as yourself, there could be no selfishness, no radical individualism. Of course, such a system could never work on a larger scale. A society like Gallifrey survived not because it stood united, but because it had different factions balancing each other, their struggle leading to a slow but steady progress. And yet... Narvin would never have called himself a romantic, but there was something about Leela’s simple, tribal code of honour that sounded terribly appealing.
The chink of metal on stone startled him out of his thoughts.
“Finally,” Leela hissed, getting to her feet and rubbing her sore wrists. The chains lay useless on the floor — she appeared to have wriggled out of them rather than breaking them. She turned to him, her expression dark. “I have lost Andred, and my K-9 and I may be losing Romana soon. I will not lose another friend.”
Narvin blinked. “I wasn’t aware you considered me a friend.”
“Be quiet and help me with this,” Leela muttered, and started to work on his chains.
They managed to escape the cellar before his mother returned, and quickly agreed that they had to get back to the flyer. Narvin hoped that his mother hadn’t got rid of it, but if her plan was to make it look as if an accident at the wake had caused him to regenerate, she would have no reason to do so. Presumably her plans for him were that — however she intended to use Darkel’s inheritance, — he would return to his duties as Co-ordinator, effectively bringing the CIA under Stillhaven’s control.
He and Leela were on the ground floor and nearing one of the servants’ exits when they tripped the first alarm. Leela jumped like a startled cat, drawing her knife in an instant. Then heavy footsteps closed in on them from two sides of the hall. Panicked, Narvin grabbed Leela and dragged her into the first room that presented itself. It turned out to be the library.
The library of Stillhaven was truly ancient, its vast shelves breathing with knowledge, and its wooden floors polished by the centuries. The windows were shuttered, and some of the paintings veiled by dustcovers, as if no one had come here in a while. But to the left of the library lay the salon, and under the door, Narvin could see a sliver of warm light and hear the din of many voices. In the hallways, people were probably searching for whoever had tripped the alarm. Soon they’d discover that he and Leela had escaped the cellar, and a full-sized hunt for them would begin. That only left the hidden staircase that led from the library to the second floor of the house.
“This way—” Narvin began, just as the door to the salon opened and, in a wave of noise and light, someone entered the library and closed the doors behind them.
Narvin, holding back Leela, stared at Eulidia, fully expecting her to call for the guards. But Eulidia breezed by him with a yawn, heading right for the secret staircase. For a moment, he thought they hadn’t been noticed, but then she said over her shoulder,
“I’m glad to see you’re better, Narvin, I was told you regenerated. Although I can’t say it’s much of an improvement.”
“I haven’t regenerated!”
“Oh, more’s the pity,” she shrugged. “Are you coming? I heard someone call for the hounds, it’s probably you they’re looking for.”
He hesitated. “I’m not sure we can trust you.”
Leela stepped forward. “I trust her. She has the voice of one who does not bother with lies.”
Eulidia led them up the staircase and into one of the guest bedrooms — evidently her own. The baying of the hounds and the shouts downstairs didn’t seem to concern her one bit, because after locking the door, she sat down in front of the gilded dressing table that dominated the room, folded her hands in her lap and smiled expectantly at both of them.
“Are we safe here?” Leela asked tensely. She still stood with a slight crouch, ready to run or fight at the slightest provocation.
“Not for long,” Narvin said.
“They’ll find you up here within the next thirty microspans,” Eulidia agreed amiably. “So you’d better hurry.”
“You locked the door,” Narvin pointed out, beginning to panic slightly. Eulidia had always tended towards the eccentric side of absentminded genius, but since he’d last seen her, she had grown even stranger. It was impossible to tell if she was fully aware of their situation, or grasped the danger they were in.
“Yes, you don’t want to go down there. The hallways will be swarming with guards already.”
“But then we are trapped!” Leela furiously turned on the spot, glaring blindly at the walls as if she could force them to reveal an escape route to her. “This is useless, Narvin! We must go and fight. I am tired of scurrying away like pigrats in the sewers!”
Eulidia shrugged. “Possibly. I didn’t think about a way for you to escape. That’s your own business. I just wanted to know why you came here. I’m insanely curious. You see, Darkel cut me out completely. She seemed to have this fixed idea that I couldn’t be trusted with politics. Something about me being too much of a scientist. How is that even possible, I ask you? She wouldn’t even let me in on the things that happened at the Academy. I was very angry at her. Anyway, I brought you here so you could tell me what’s going on.”
“Yes, I would also like to know that,” Leela said darkly, at last turning her glower on Narvin. “This is no time to be keeping secrets.”
“Is there ever a time for secrets? They just inhibit the free flow of information, in my opinion,” Eulidia said. “But while you’re mentioning secrets — how about another secret passage? If you want to get to your flyer, that is. I can show you the way, if you tell me everything.”
There was no choice but to admit defeat. Leela would mutiny if he didn’t tell her, and Eulidia, however much she pretended to be above such matters, knew that by dangling the prospect of escape in front of him, she could extort any information she wanted.
“I will tell you everything,” Narvin promised, “once we’re safely in the flyer and back on our way to the Citadel.”
Narvin was surprised when they agreed, but then, neither Eulidia nor Leela were spies. They probably didn’t realize that every minute they gave him to think about this was a minute in which he could formulate a convincing lie. They made their way through the secret passage in silence, always listening for signs that they were being followed. When they emerged, about ten micro-spans later, in the burial field located downhill from the main house, they could see that the CIA flyer, parked among the other vehicles, was only guarded by two men.
“I can take care of them,” Leela said confidently when Narvin described their positions to her. “If I am still ‘authorized to use any force necessary’.”
She didn’t wait for his consent, though, but crept off into the night like a shadow among its own kin, soon nearly invisible but for an occasional swift movement or glimmer of her blade. Then suddenly she stood behind one of the guards, raising an arm as if to embrace him, and with the same motion held his body as he twitched silently and lowered him to the ground. The other guard turned, and whatever he saw made him take a frightened step back, dropping his staser. A moment later, he too was dead, and Leela pulled her knife from his neck.
“She is very efficient,” Eulidia said appreciatively.
Narvin almost objected. He knew what efficient death looked like — it required no more than the pull of a trigger, the push of a button, a word said at the right time. None of that speed and grace, no bloody blade, no deadly embrace. It didn’t require the bright, girlish smile Leela wore when they caught up with her, either, or the stain of blood on her skirt where she had wiped her knife. Leela’s way of killing was not efficient, but watching her, Narvin felt an inkling of what a man like Braxiatel had to feel when he looked at a work of art.
“Very efficient,” he answered.
Once they were up in the air, flying towards the Citadel in stealth mode, Narvin realised with a sinking feeling that he’d forgotten to come up with a feasible lie. Somehow, he’d become completely distracted by their escape. And not just that: when he turned around to face the two women, Leela had not yet sheathed her blade.
“Now,” she said, her tone as hungry as her smile, “we have time to talk. Do not try to lie, Narvin, I can tell when you are being devious. Your words are like slippery eels.”
“I’ve locked the flight controls,” Narvin bluffed. “You need CIA codes to reactivate them. So unless you want to die in a fiery crash...”
Leela scoffed. “I do not have to kill you to make you speak, Narvin. You know that, you have seen me question Pandora’s soldiers.”
Narvin had indeed. He had, at the time, expected Romana to protest, but it seemed that Leela, even though she hated lying, knew when not to advertise certain facts.
He raised his hands in defeat. “All right, all right. I was going to tell you, I just don’t like being hurried.” He smoothed his robes over his knees, trying to appear calm and collected. It didn’t work well with both women staring at him like that. “As you already guessed, I’m after a certain object that was in Darkel’s possession before her death. Never the forgiving sort, she must have made sure that it would fall into the right hands in case she died — into the hands of people who would use it to harm her enemies.”
“Romana,” Leela said.
“Yes, although ironically, because Matthias and Braxiatel have already betrayed her, Romana may be much safer now than Darkel anticipated.”
“Only on Gallifrey that would count as safety!”
“Nevertheless, their main target right now will be Matthias. I believe that Lady Tamarged, Lord Kelner and Cardinal Valoxin, as well as whoever else is involved in their conspiracy, are planning a coup.”
Leela cocked her head, frowning. “Kelner... Kelner... I know that name!”
“You would,” Narvin nodded. “He was Castellan when you came to Gallifrey, although one of President Borusa’s first actions after assuming the presidency was to fire him for his involvement in the Sontaran invasion. Kelner narrowly escaped being charged for High Treason, probably only because as a new president, Borusa was expected to grant him amnesty.”
“So this Kelner was in league with Darkel,” Leela guessed.
Eulidia shook her head. “Darkel always kept Cousin Kelner at arm’s length. She said he would sell out his own loom mother if he thought it would get him an advantage.”
Narvin nodded. “That’s what I heard, too. But Kelner was useful to her in one respect. Like Leela here, he was there the last time someone used the Great Key of Rassilon.”
“The Great Key?” Leela failed to look as shocked as she ought to have been in Narvin’s opinion, and Eulidia merely looked delighted. “You mean Darkel had the Great Key?” Leela exclaimed. But who gave it to her? Did they not see she would use it for evil?”
Narvin leaned back and steepled his fingers. “That is a bit complicated, as you’ll see. Borusa was Chancellor before he became President, so he had the Great Key in his possession, but as was his duty, he handed it over to the next Chancellor, Lady Flavia. When Flavia assumed the Presidency, for reasons of her own she decided not to nominate a new Chancellor, instead, she entrusted the Great Key to the person she thought most trustworthy: the Inquisitor Prime. Darkel, as far as I have been able to ascertain, never attempted to abuse that privilege while Flavia reigned. Then Romana named Braxiatel chancellor, and he demanded the Key back from Darkel — how he knew she had it, I don’t know.”
Narvin paused, once again frustrated by this gap in his knowledge. He fully intended to ask Braxiatel, if he ever got hold of him. But he didn’t actually expect to get a honest answer.
“When Braxiatel’s brief time in office came to an end, he would no doubt have quietly absconded with the Key if Darkel hadn’t turned tables on him and demanded the Key back. Braxiatel had no choice but to give it to her, and so Darkel once again possessed the Key—”
“Enough,” Leela groaned, “this tale is making my head hurt! Tell us what our enemies are planning, so we may stop them.”
Narvin shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s obvious that someone in House Stillhaven has the Key, but Omega only knows what they’ll do with it. I fear they’ll make a move soon, or else Kelner would have had no reason to try and poison me.”
The prospect of having to figure it out was making his head hurt as well. It would have been easy to simply arrest and question every member of Stillhaven, but that was sure to cause a stir, and once Matthias found out about this whole affair, he would also find out about the key. Narvin didn’t trust Matthias with such a temptation. They key, if nothing else, was a symbol of power and control — the very things Matthias didn’t have and wanted badly. No, ideally they’d find a quiet solution to this, and Matthias would never have to know about it.
“Perhaps they will build the de-mat gun. That is what the key is for, is it not? But what will they do with it? Gallifrey is not short of weapons!”
“Again, I don’t know.” Narvin sighed and rubbed his temples. “But I doubt it’ll be as simple a plan as build gun, kill president.”
“Whatever it is, they need a laboratory for it,” Eulidia said, making them both turn towards her. “Darkel made me hand over the keys to mine, didn’t I tell you? It was during Pandora’s reign.”
Narvin straightened. “No, you didn’t mention that! But that’s brilliant! It means we have a lead to follow, and we may just get there before they do. You’re still at the Arcalian Science council? Yes, of course you are, you said you were chairwoman now.”
Narvin swung around his seat and changed the course settings. Maybe things would yet work out smoothly, if they could get to the key before anyone figured out that Eulidia was helping them.
The squat, utilitarian buildings of the Arcalian science council had survived the civil war much better than the Prydonian Academy, chiefly because it had been Pandora’s main base for her secret weapons research and she had protected it well. Only the surrounding park with its severe hedge sculptures bore a few grooves from an altercation with the invading Nekkistani and Phaidon fleets, which proved to be convenient, because the construction work provided good cover for their flyer.
It was the middle of the night and, except for a few pig rats, the streets were deserted. To conserve power, one of Matthias first decrees had been to leave the street lights off at night, and as consequence, the transduction barrier’s faint glow and the starlight reflected from the high spires of the Panopticon were the only sources of light. But Eulidia led them without hesitation towards the second largest building of the complex. The sign at the door proclaimed it as “Main Data Technology and Matrix Research Laboratory” and Eulidia’s handprint gave them instant access.
Once inside, Leela bade them hold still while she listened intently. Then she whispered, “If anyone is here, they are quiet. It may be a trap.”
“I don’t think they’ll be expecting us,” Eulidia said, and led them in the direction of her lab. “Marged doesn’t know I’m with you, and without me, you would never have thought to come here.”
“You may be underestimating my mother,” Narvin said warily.
“You may be underestimating me,” Eulidia countered with a self-satisfied little smirk that made Narvin feel extremely suspicious. He was about to stop and demand an explanation when they both nearly bumped into Leela. She had frozen in the middle of the corridor, holding them both back with a raised hand.
“What is it?” Narvin whispered.
“Quiet,” Leela hushed him and continued to listen. “There is a voice. A woman’s voice. She is... singing? No, not a song... it is like an incantation!”
“An incantation?” Narvin asked, his voice rising slightly above a whisper. “Where do you get these absurd ideas?”
“There’s no time for pointless speculation,” Eulidia said and stepped past Leela and in front of the door where Leela had stopped. Her palm print and retina were scanned in an instant, and the door slid open.
“Welcome, Chairwoman Eulidia,” a computerized female voice said.
“Two guests,” Eulidia replied and stepped inside.
The laboratory was brightly lit, and the mere sight of the computer towers and circuitry inside made Narvin’s palms itch with a sudden longing for the times when this sort of thing had been his life. A central table was laden with all sorts of tools, wires, opened book and half-unrolled scrolls. Several holo-screens around the room were full of writing in a single, very neat hand. A rubbish bin near the door was brimming with ration cube wrappers.
At the far back of the room, a dark-haired woman sat in a chair, her feet propped up on a table and her eyes closed. She was talking to herself in a fast, monotonous voice, reciting a seemingly unrelated string of numbers, “1037567, 1037593, 1037611, 1037627, 1037653...”
“Prime numbers,” Narvin said. “That’s your incantation, Leela.”
But Leela wasn’t listening. She had frozen again, but now she fairly jumped into motion, groping her way between the tables towards the woman in the chair. “That voice,” she exclaimed. “I know that voice! Oh, I have not heard it for so many, many years! Rodan, it is I, Leela!”
The woman stopped her incantation of primes, opened her eyes, and said, “Leela?”
“Yes,” Leela laughed, and then stopped again. “I cannot see you, Rodan, I am blind. But your voice I will never forget. It was the first that spoke kindly to me on Gallifrey.”
Rodan, meanwhile, had risen from her chair and now crossed the room and touched Leela’s hands with her own. It was a gesture that surprised Narvin, since very few Time Lords would have initiated physical contact so quickly, and with a savage woman holding a knife, too. But Leela nearly dropped her knife in her haste to put it back into its sheath and grasp Rodan’s hands in her own.
“What is it?” Rodan asked, slightly bemused. “Leela, your eyes, you said you were blind—”
Leela shook her head and wiped her eyes. “It is — it is nothing. I just... all these years I had a friend on Gallifrey, and I never once thought to find her again. What a fool I have been.”
“It’s barely been a century,” Rodan laughed. “How silly of you to cry over such a short time. How is Andred?”
“Dead.” Leela lowered her head, then cupped Rodan’s face in her palm. “The years flew by while he lived, and I thought of nothing but me and him, but now every day feels like a century to these old bones. I am glad I found you again, Rodan.”
“It must be very strange to experience time like you do,” Rodan replied, “but I am glad, too. For a while, I really liked this new job I’ve been given, but it’s getting very annoying now.” She gestured at the lab. “They gave me all this to work with, and they even promised I would get to work with the actual key! But then there was all this talk about a war, and everything got stalled.”
Narvin stepped forward, clearing his throat. “I assume by they, you mean Darkel?”
“Yes, I think that’s her name,” Rodan shrugged. “An Inquisitor. She knows very little about science. She has not been here in a while.”
“And you’ve been working on the Great Key of Rassilon for her.”
Rodan nodded, and gently extricated herself from Leela’s grasp to pick up some data pads. “Yes, although I did that long before Darkel brought me here. You see, I used to work in traffic control, and it’s the most frightfully boring job imaginable. So I said to myself, wouldn’t it be great if you could reverse engineer that key the Doctor gave you to build the de-mat gun? First I had to break through the hypnosis, of course, to remember, but you’ll be amazed what you can achieve with enough time at your hands. Then of course I didn’t have the actual key, but that wasn’t much of a problem. With perfect recall and a good computer model, it’s almost superfluous. By the time Darkel came to me, I had already unlocked the most of the key’s lower dimensions...”
“Wait, wait,” Narvin implored to stop her flow of words, “you’ve had the key before? You were there during the Sontaran invasion?”
“That is how I met Rodan,” Leela said proudly.
Eulidia took the data pads from Rodan, going eagerly through them, exclaiming here and there in joyful amazement.
Narvin was less delighted by what he understood of Rodan’s explanation. “You mean the key is trans-dimensional?”
“It has data encryption on the surfaces of at least eleven dimensions,” Rodan went on, and ushered him and Leela to one of the whiteboards. “The object we call the Great Key is only its three-dimensional image, and encrypted in that image is the information needed to build the de-mat gun, of which the key itself is a component. The fourth dimension contains all the laws of time, annotated by Rassilon himself. It’s very entertaining, it has these little simulations of what happens when you break them, you know? The fifth dimension is a blueprint for the Key itself, although I haven’t been able to understand what you’d need to actually build one. The sixth dimension is rather complicated, it sort of moves — but I think it’s a dynamic map of history, updated whenever the web of time changes. Theoretically, you could use it to calculate possible alterations of history. The seventh dimension contains blueprints for a number of other trans-dimensional objects, probably the Rod, the Sash and the Coronet of Rassilon, but maybe more than that. I haven’t been able to unlock the eighth, ninth and tenth dimension, but I’m working on them.”
Narvin stared at the whiteboard, every bit as baffled as Leela. “You’ve been able to find out all this from a memory you had of the key?”
Rodan gave him an odd look. “It’s just maths.” She pointed up at the highest set of equations. “But the eleventh is the really good one. If I’m right, and I probably am, it’s a complete, self-updating copy of the Matrix.”
“Of course,” Narvin whispered in awe. “I knew it! What data engineer builds a network like the Matrix without a backup copy?”
“There is another Matrix?” Leela asked. “Inside the key?”
“Not so much inside, as—” Narvin threw up his hands impatiently, “It’s trans-dimensional engineering, there’s no time to explain it now.”
“You could say it’s like a TARDIS,” Rodan mused. “Not exactly, of course, but if you count the higher dimensions, every object is in some sense bigger on the inside.”
“But there is another Matrix?” Leela insisted. “Like the one Romana destroyed. That is good, is it not?”
“For science,” Eulidia said, joining them, “it’s a triumph and a great relief. And for anyone with both the key and the knowledge required to use it, it means nearly unlimited power. But for Narvin, I’d say it currently presents a security risk of breathtaking proportions.”
“Do you still have the key?” Narvin asked Rodan urgently.
“No, they never gave it to me. I told them that to activate it, you’d have to be either Rassilon or a President of Gallifrey, so I couldn’t possibly use it without their permission, but—”
“A president?” Leela and Narvin asked nearly at the same time.
“No,” Leela said, her arms crossed and her chin jutting stubbornly. “I will not do this! If Romana is in danger, I must go to her!”
“Rodan and Eulidia will go to Romana,” Narvin told her for the third time. “I’m sure that Matthias is in much greater danger. Valoxin is a Cardinal, and Chancellor Valyes may well be involved in this conspiracy. They both have direct access to Matthias, whereas Romana is well-guarded and the location of her safe-house isn’t publicly known. Besides, Rodan said herself that she isn’t sure if a president out of office could use the key. Romana is not the prime target!”
“But I do not care about Matthias!” Leela wailed.
Finally, Narvin’s comlink chirped, signalling that his call had been answered.
“What is the purpose of your call?” K-9’s tinny voice demanded haughtily. “You are speaking to the acting Co-ordinator of the CIA. Please be concise and to the point, as my time for you is limited.”
“This is Narvin. I need you to drop everything you’re doing and find a way to get Matthias out of the Panopticon now.”
“President Matthias is sleeping,” K-9 replied primly. “He does not wish to be disturbed. He also says that there will, I quote, ‘be a reckoning’. I believe this refers to you putting me in charge of the CIA.”
“Are you sure he’s sleeping? No intruders in his chambers?”
“Affirmative. The president’s personal chambers are under complete surveillance.”
“How — nevermind, you can tell me later. Does Matthias have any meetings scheduled tomorrow?” Narvin checked the time, realizing that it was well past midnight. “That is, today.”
“Accessing President Matthias schedule. Item one: make call to unidentified off-world contact, channel encrypted. Item two: meet with the Arcalian Chapter to discuss energy crisis. Item three: read report regarding pig-rat situation—”
“Stop. The meeting with the Arcalian chapter, that’s when they’ll try to get at him. K-9, you have to get Matthias to be late, but not cancel. Fake an emergency, prolong that off-world call, talk to him about pigrats, I don’t care, just keep him occupied for a little while longer.”
Leela grabbed the comlink from him. “K-9, are there any news from Romana? Is she all right?”
“Affirmative. Mistress Romana has sent seven further formal complaints to President Matthias regarding her house arrest.”
“See?” Narvin snatched back the comlink. “Romana is fine. K-9, you have your orders. Narvin over and out.”
Rodan and Eulidia joined them by the door of the laboratory, both carrying heavy bags. “We’re ready,” Eulidia said, locking the door and changing the codes.
Narvin nodded and handed her the coordinates of Romana’s safe house on a data pad. “Stick with Romana, and—”
“ — try to see if there is a link between her and the Great Key, we know,” Eulidia said. “We’re not your agents, Narvin, we don’t need a co-ordinator. Come, Rodan.”
Leela seized Narvin’s arm, tugging painfully as the two women left. “Why can I not go with them?”
“Because I need you to find Captain Annos and convince him to come to the High Council meeting chambers in time to stop Darkel’s little conspiracy. The guardsmen respect you, they’ll listen to you. But tell them not to come charging in right away — if we time it right, we can get them to implicate themselves and reveal the location of the Key.”
“You need a hunter to lay your trap,” Leela said, understanding dawning on her features. “But if Matthias is not there, who will be the bait?”
“I will,” Narvin replied.
The meeting chamber where Matthias was scheduled to address the Arcalians was designed as an amphitheatre, with a central pit for the speaker and many rows of seats for the audience. The entrances lay behind the highest row of seats, and all but one were locked. It was a good trap, Leela thought approvingly, easier to get into than out of, with the seats providing an ideal cover for a hunter. She, Annos and a troop of guards had been able to sneak into the meeting chamber without being noticed by the people inside. Now they were crouching together behind the top row of seats, Annos trying to get a look at the pit and Leela pressed closely against his back.
“Can you see what is happening?” she whispered.
Annos twisted under her grip, trying to crane his neck and peer over the seat they were hiding behind and down at the center of the room. “I can see Narvin down there,” he said slowly, “someone’s pointing a staser at him... there’s an Arcalian Cardinal, and a man in civilian clothes...”
“Is there an old woman?”
“Yes, she’s talking to Narvin.”
“Good. It is as Narvin thought. You Time Lords must always talk about your plots and schemes, and now it will be their downfall. Come, Annos, we must get closer, so we can listen...”
Slowly, she and Annos crept further down the meeting chamber between the rows of seats. They did not have to go far — the room was built to carry noise, and neither Narvin nor his relatives were trying to keep their voices low. Even without an amplifier, they were almost within hearing range. Leela could tell that Narvin, although he had planned all this, was agitated.
“Oh,” Annos said, wincing, “it looks as if Narvin just said something that really pissed off the old lady.”
“What?” Lady Tamarged exclaimed, and now Leela could hear her clearly, no longer cold and collected as she had been in the wine cellar, but shouting in fury, “you have done what?”
“Matthias is not going to come,” Narvin replied, “and the Chancellery guard are on their way. You see, I figured out your plan, mother. You were going to force Matthias to activate the key the key so you could use it for your purposes, or if that failed, kill him and have Valyes succeed him as President. Even if he isn’t part of your little conspiracy, I have no doubt he would be only too eager to join you once Matthias is out of the way.”
“Oh, clever,” Annos murmured, “he’s trying to get her to implicate Valyes as well.”
Lady Tamarged seemed unfazed by Narvin’s accusation. “And what if your theory is correct, Narvin? Wouldn’t you rather have a respectable president with a firm power base than an upstart who was appointed by a renegade?”
“What I would like is a president who came by his title in accordance with the law and not through treachery and assassination! Have you all lost your minds? This goes against every time-honoured law of Gallifrey!”
“Should we charge now?” Annos asked nervously. “With Narvin’s talent for diplomacy, this might turn into bloodshed any minute.”
Leela shook her head. She wanted to hear this. Narvin had sounded tense just now, but not frightened, as if things were still going according to his plan, and he had another ace up his sleeve. He would be fine.
His mother, meanwhile, still hadn’t regained her composure. “Do you even realize what you are doing? You’re ruining everything! This isn’t just the last chance Gallifrey has to restore its old glory. The fate of Stillhaven itself is at risk. Arrest us, Narvin, and you’re destroying one of Gallifrey’s most ancient houses. All our fame, our history, our noble traditions will be nothing but a prologue to treason.”
“I know,” Narvin said, so softly Leela could hardly hear him. “If the full extent of your plans becomes known, it could destroy us utterly.”
“And yet you would betray us?”
“It doesn’t have to end that way, mother. Hand over the Key now, and I will consider it nothing but a misunderstanding, a rash action prompted by the confusion brought on by the war...”
“He’s going to try and sweep this whole affair under the carpet,” Annos hissed indignantly. “Typical CIA!”
Leela said nothing. She still did not believe Narvin’s claim that he had no love for his family. She remembered all too well the despair she had felt when her father had sacrificed himself so she might be forgiven by the tribe. She had begged them, all her noble thoughts and determination forgotten, had been on her knees in the dust just so her only family might live. Even now, she felt the serrated blade of guilt when she thought of her father. She understood what Narvin was doing, even though she did not approve.
Lady Tamarged, too, was silent for a moment, considering Narvin’s offer. One of her accomplices, Kelner if Leela remembered his voice, asked anxiously if maybe they ought to back down and accept it. Still the matriarch of Stillhaven said nothing.
At least, Narvin broke the stony silence, his voice strained. “Please, mother.”
“No,” she said. “We are Stillhavens. We stand our ground. I do this in the fullest conviction that it is the right thing to do and I will not back down. Die as a traitor, Narvin, or join us.”
Leela heard a staser being activated, ready to fire. She waited no longer. “Charge!” she yelled and the guards stormed down the ranks.
The conspirators did not put much of a fight, only Kelner tried to make a run for it. Lady Tamarged, Cardinal Valoxin and Pendell accepted their fate with as much dignity as could be expected. In the commotion, Leela found it hard to spot Narvin. For once, he was not talking, and she bumped into him almost by accident.
“Are you unharmed?” Leela asked, grasping his shoulders. “You did not give a signal, but I thought—”
“I’m fine,” he said. “Search them, Captain Annos, one of them will have a small golden key.”
“You are not fine,” Leela scolded. “Your mother threatened to kill you. Twice in one day.”
“And she does not believe in empty threats.” Narvin’s tone was light as though he thought it humorous. “Aren’t you going to ask me whether I would have chosen death or treason?”
“No,” Leela said. “You are many things, Narvin, but not a coward.”
“Thank you,” he said, as though he meant it, which Leela did not quite understand - it was not praise, but the truth, and coming from her, she wouldn’t have thought that it mattered to Narvin. Before she could ask him about it, Annos came hurrying to them.
“Here’s the Key,” he said, handing it to Leela instead of Narvin, “and I’ve had word that the President is coming.”
After being poisoned, zapped by a fake Great Key of Rassilon, chained up, threatened with regeneration, threatened with hunting knives and then threatened with death, Matthias’s blustering paled somewhat in comparison. He berated Narvin at length about putting K-9 in charge of the CIA and neglecting his duty, uttered some vague threats and then belatedly realized that instead of a room full of impatient Arcalians, there were merely some conspirators being led away by the Chancellery guard. After a moment’s surprise, Matthias recognized them.
“Arresting your own family?” he asked, raising his brows.
“On charges of high treason,” Narvin sighed, wondering just how he was going to explain this without mentioning any unmentionable objects of Rassilon to the president. He supposed he could claim that the key had been lost, and then Matthias wouldn’t be tempted to get his hands on it...
But Matthias backed down, looking for once a little impressed. “You can be a frighteningly efficient man at times, Narvin,” he said, shaking his head. “I suppose it is true what they say. Never trust the CIA.” Then he shrugged. “Ah well. This saves me a meeting with the Arcalians, so I’m not going to complain. But get that uppity little tin dog out of your office, Narvin, before he decides to seize the presidency!” With that he left, blissfully unaware that his life had just been saved.
The meeting chambers were emptying, only Leela and Annos staying behind with Narvin. “Now,” Leela decided, “we must go to Romana, to see that she is well, and to celebrate our victory!”
“And to test the Key,” Narvin said, as much to remind himself as to remind them. If the Key was real, and Rodan was right about its contents, then this truly was a victory — for Gallifrey, if not for Stillhaven.
Romana had been less than happy when she’d been woken up by two strangers in the middle of the night only to learn that maybe people were trying to kill her, or maybe there’d just be another coup d’etat.
“So Darkel manages to rob me of my sleep even in death,” she shuddered, and demanded that one of the intruders bring her tea, or coffee, or anything that would let her face trouble a little less bleary-eyed.
“This kitchen table will do, Eulidia,” the woman called Rodan explained. “It is perfect for building a Key detector. Madam Ex-President, could you please remove the botanical samples—”
“The what? Oh, you mean the vase of flowers.” Romana froze. “Did you say key detector?”
“Yes. We’ll build a device that’ll pick up the artron frequency that links you or any living president to the Great Key of Rassilon.”
After that Romana felt suddenly very, very awake. Not much later, she was also beginning to feel quite excited, as she went through Rodan’s equations and began to understand the enormity of what they might be about to discover. Then she realized that Rodan and Eulidia seemed to consider her merely a test subject, which was of course unacceptable, so Romana quickly proved to them with some very pertinent questions that she was every bit as clever as they if a little rusty on her transdimensional physics.
The detector was completed before first sunrise, but it picked up only a very faint signal from Romana, and just as faint a signal from the Panopticon, where Matthias had to be.
By the time Annos, Leela and Narvin arrived, Romana had convinced Rodan of the merits of tea versus ration pills, and they were deep in discussion about the possible implications of the signal.
“You have the Key?” Romana asked instantly, cutting through the usual formalities.
“Yes,” Leela said, and handed her the small golden object. “All went well.”
Romana thought she felt a tingle as she held the key, a shiver of power running through her veins, as if she still wore the Sash and the Rod. But what if it was merely an echo, or worse, her imagination? What if this power was only for Matthias?
With shaking fingers she put the Key down on the table for Rodan to scan it. Eulidia bent over her shoulder at one side, Narvin at the other, both of them holding their breath.
Rodan stopped scanning the key and picked it up, tilting it against the light.
“It’s a fake,” she said.
“A fake!” Romana gasped. “Narvin, you fool! They deceived you!”
Narvin gave her a bitter look, and with brittle dignity said, “Only in as far as Darkel and my mother have been deceived. I should have seen this sooner, but I think I’ve figured it out now. Rodan, before Darkel came to talk to you about the Key, did anyone else ever ask you about it?”
“Yes,” Rodan said, surprised. “A man. How did you know that?”
“Was he perhaps a Chancellor?”
She nodded. Finally, Romana saw what Narvin was getting at. She heaved a shuddering sigh. “Braxiatel.”
“Braxiatel has the Key?” Leela asked in astonishment. “But I thought Darkel had it!”
“He’s had it ever since he left Gallifrey,” Narvin said. “House Stillhaven has brought ruin to itself over an ordinary golden trinket.”
“Some members of Stillhaven have brought ruin to themselves,” Eulidia corrected him. She picked up her travelling cloak and fastened it around her shoulders. “Luckily, I am not implicated in any of these crimes, nor have I publicly cut all ties with my family, so someone will be there to pick up the pieces.”
Romana laughed when she saw Narvin’s expression. “Don’t look so surprised, Co-ordinator. She is Darkel’s sister, after all, and Darkel always knew how to profit from disasters.”
Eulidia nodded at Romana and turned to go. Rodan picked up the detector and followed her, but in the doorway she turned and said, “I may be busy for a while now, Leela, but I would not object to seeing you again before another century has passed.”
Leela nodded solemnly. “I promise that I will not wait so long this time.”
When they had left, Romana sighed wistfully. “If only we could get a hold of the real Key. I don’t suppose there’s any chance the CIA could track Braxiatel down? He has a lot to explain.”
“Without the Matrix, that’s going to be exceedingly difficult,” Narvin said. “And I very much doubt he’d just hand it over to you.”
Romana grimaced. “Unfortunately, I see your point. He might just give it to Matthias.”
Narvin left quietly a few minutes after Eulidia and Rodan, leaving Annos and Leela to be questioned by Romana, who was thirsty for any kind of information about what went on at the Panopticon in her absence. Narvin had other responsibilities — arrests always caused paperwork, and Narvin would rather take care of that himself in this case.
He was halfway back in the Panopticon when he heard someone following him at the a jog, and turned to see Leela running after him, a little out of breath. She couldn’t see of course that he had seen her, but still he waited for her to catch up with him. He thought he knew what she was going to say, and if he was right, then at least there had been some good to all this.
“Wait,” Leela gasped, as she came to halt. “Why did you slink off so quietly, without a word of parting?”
“I didn’t see a reason to stay. And besides, I need to see what K-9 has been up to in my absence.”
“I shall walk with you, then,” Leela said, and they continued on their way in silence. Narvin didn’t mind, he thought that the silence was companionable. In the early morning hours, the Citadel’s empty streets were good for contemplation, even if it was contemplation of a bleak and tired sort.
He wondered if he ought to bring up his offer again, or simply consider it quietly accepted. Some formalities, of course, would be necessary, but perhaps not right now. In the end, he said, “I’d say for a Time Lord and a savage, we make a good team.”
“We do,” Leela said thoughtfully. “You are a Time Lord through and through, and yet I think that at least one of your hearts belongs to a warrior.”
“Actually, I prefer peace and quiet,” Narvin said, but he knew that coming from Leela it was a compliment. He got little enough acknowledgement of his work, and even less honest praise, so on this cold morning, he took comfort in it.
“There will be little of that on the path you have chosen,” Leela prophesied.
Narvin frowned. Suddenly, he felt as if they weren’t quite having the same conversation. “What path?”
“You are ‘Romana’s man’ now, are you not?” Leela asked. “You picked her side over your own tribe, as did I when I forgave her for Andred’s death. There can be no way back for us, but at least we do not walk alone.”
Narvin stopped dead in his tracks. Whatever warmth had fortified him against exhaustion left his body, leaving only the cold that seeped mercilessly into his skin. He wanted nothing better than to say yes to Leela’s every word because it was all true: there was no way back, they had both picked their sides for better or worse, because to betray what they had chosen would be to doubly betray what they had given up. Leela understood that, as she understood so many things that Narvin had once thought only a Time Lord could possibly understand. But perhaps it had nothing to do with being a Time Lord. Perhaps it had more to do with that elusive quality that Leela called ‘being a warrior’. Honour might be the word Narvin would have chosen, had it not sounded far too deceptively simple.
Whatever it was, he recognised it in Leela. Narvin was not by nature given to strong desires, but a part of him had grown so accustomed to Leela’s strange company that he found himself depending on it now. He could admit no more without compromising himself, but that, yes: he wanted her by his side. That she returned the feeling would have pleased him beyond words if it wasn’t so bitterly ironic.
Leela had noticed his silence. “You trusted Romana with the Key when you would not trust Matthias. It must mean you are on her side!”
“I don’t pick sides,” he told her. It came out harsher than he intended, but he could not keep the cold out of his voice when he felt it running deeper with every breath he took. “There can be only one side for me, ever and always, and that is Gallifrey. If you haven’t understood that by now, I don’t know what to say to get it through your thick skull.”
Leela seemed to be standing perfectly still, yet at the same time shaking with rage. “Insult me all you want, Narvin. It is you who is the fool. What is this Gallifrey you speak of? It is not its laws, because you break them if it suits you. It is not its buildings, because you and I have destroyed them when it was necessary. It is not its people, because you do not care for anyone in the world. It is nothing, a word, a — a false god that you still follow even though you must have seen by now that it is false.” She stopped to catch her breath. “But if that is your choice, then our ways must part.”
“It seems they must,” he said, and watched her nod and turn and stride away from him, back to Romana. He turned as well, more slowly, more dignified he told himself, as befitted a Time Lord, even when no one was watching.
He looked over his shoulder, and saw her standing still as well, only a savage dressed in skins, lost among these ancient houses, hardly deadly except for the stain of blood darkening on her dress, and the doubtful look on her face. That doubt, the question it put to him and almost forced him to answer, was deadlier than poison.
Arrests required triple forms, three times his signature under the words High Treason. Narvin had signed them and put them away, and now only Leela’s visa application form remained before he could return to business as usual.
All he needed was to tick a box, maybe write a brief note. He wavered over the boxes, APPROVED on the one side, DENIED on the other, then set his pen down to begin a note before making a choice.
“Dangerous element, highly subversive—” he wrote, but then his pen seemed to falter, and he crossed out the words in annoyance. Too strong, too personal.
“Successful integration unlikely, recommend repatriation—”
But that wasn’t possible, Leela had said so herself. She, too, had cut her ties. He crossed out another line and began a third time.
“Subject issupporting seditious elements among the population
That, though, was cause for another arrest, rather than a reason to deny a visa. And calling Romana seditious was perhaps a bit hasty. Narvin stared at the form. He could just tick DENIED, nobody important would ask any questions. Nobody but him would probably even look at the form. Even Leela had probably forgotten about it by now.
He glanced at the other side, the balanced, clean curves of the sign for APPROVED. As if on its own accord, his pen found the paper again.
“Most vital to Gallifrey,” he wrote.